24 August 2006 | Chris_Docker
Only for those who like a challenge
Not a film I can recommend unless you appreciate a challenge, Hotel Habarati is one I found irritating, then hated, then two days later felt a grudging respect for, and eventually came to like for its innovativeness, boldness and the fact that I couldn't easily get it out of my head.
It begins in the waiting room of a railway station. There's a bag, apparently left by mistake - although we are of course aware of terrorist threats with unaccompanied baggage. Should you take it to the lost property or catch the person on the train - or just keep it? When Marion opens the bag at home it turns out to contain money in a none too familiar Middle Eastern currency. She and her husband Philippe had planned to take a holiday in Venice together, away from the children. In the end they didn't go, but tell people they have, making it a private joke between them. The bag appears to have an address tag on it with the words Hotel Habarati (only with the first two letters scuffed out). News comes of a bomb that has been found.
Hotel Harabati starts with some irritating music and seemingly throw away dialogue. The contradictions start to grow and both of the main characters, separately, wonder if they are losing it. The ending, when it comes, totally upsets everything that has gone before. It's a bit like Mulholland Drive where, the first time you see it, you look about you in astonishment wondering whether it's the same movie - only after deep reflection, or maybe multiple viewings, can the linear storyline be constructed.
Unlike Mulholland Drive, there is no set of clues that eventually signify dream sequences or other ways of making sense of the sudden disconnectedness. The ending has a beauty and serenity that require the viewer to re-examine everything that has gone before and either find many explanations for the events (like the unexpected photos of Venice that appear among family shots when Marion gets her film back from the developers) and the individual psyches of the two main characters. Deliberate contrasts tempt you to question the emotional involvements one way or the opposite way, or even (a possible way out) look at the main part of the film as a purely surreal representation of what Marion and Philippe were going through - but if that is the case, then the inconsistencies could perhaps be explained away factually.
While Hotel Harabati (De particulier à particulier) invites repeat viewings, I doubt that director Brice Cauvin has provided anything as simple as corner-of-the-screen explanatory clues the way Micahel Haneke did in Hidden (Caché). More probably it has to be grappled with as a work of art that does not necessarily follow normal rules of storytelling. This may leave it open to allegations of pretentiousness, but there is no denying its fascinating appeal.